As we reflect on how history influences the present, Americans are considering how the people we’ve chosen to honor for centuries may not be reflective of the nation’s values after all. This is why many cities across the nation are celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day.
The idea of Indigenous Peoples’ Day started at an international conference on discrimination sponsored by the United Nations in 1977. In 1992, Berkeley was the first city to declare October 12 as “Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People” and promoted programs in schools and museums on Native American culture. The other cities that officially recognize the day are Los Angeles, Burbank, Seattle, Denver, Phoenix, and most recently Austin. There are also a few entire states (Minnesota, Alaska, and Vermont) that celebrate the holiday.
Other than the fact that Columbus did not in fact discover America (while you can’t discover a place where people already live, Amerigo Vespucci is the European explorer whose boat actually touched down in what was later named the Americas), he was also responsible for the enslavement and genocide of native people.
Some Italian Americans view the shift to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day as an affront to their heritage, while others just don’t want it to push aside a day they take seriously.
“On behalf of the Italian community, we want to celebrate with you,” Ann Potenza, president of Federated Italo-Americans of Southern California, said at a hearing about the celebration in LA in August, according to the Los Angeles Times. “We just don’t want it to be at the expense of Columbus Day.”